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Europa League Round of 16 Preview – Week 2

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The Europa League is the second tier of UEFA European Competition of now three tiers (The Champions League, The Europa League and The Europa Conference League) and was previously known as the UEFA Cup.

The Europa League second legs kick off on Thursday and there’s all to play for in all of them as a place in the Quarter-Finals is at stake. In my Europa League preview below, I’ve covered a little about all the teams, including what happened in the first leg and who I predict will make the next stage.

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The real focus will be on Old Trafford with Manchester United hosting Barcelona after their 2-2 draw in Spain, but with familiar names such as Roma, Ajax, Juventus, and Sevilla all playing on Thursday evening, you may want to delve into this Europa League Preview.

Manchester United vs Barcelona

Who are they?

I’m sure these two need no formal introduction, European heavyweights and amongst the richest clubs in the world. United host Barcelona at Old Trafford for the first time since April 2019 when they met in the Champion’s League Quarter-Final. The visitors finished the victors in England edging the first leg 1-0 before sweeping them aside 3-0 at Camp Nou. The two are priced in at 4.5/1 and 5/1 to win the tournament respectively, so whoever qualifies will be up there with the favourites Arsenal to go all the way.

The First Leg

Their meeting last week at the Camp Nou was filled with entertainment. 4 goals, 5 cards, 13 corners, 12 shots on target. It was a great spectacle and great match for bet builders. Former Chelsea left-back Marcos Alonso, standing in at centre-back,  was the first to make a mark on the exchange early in the second half.

Within 9 minutes, the in-form Marcus Rashford and a Jule Kounde own goal turned the tide on the game as United took a 2-1 lead. The Spanish league leaders were lucky to keep their 17-game unbeaten home run going as Raphinha’s cross managed to find it’s way into the net to make it 2-2 and leave the Last 16 tie completely open heading to Old Trafford.

Who will Advance?

United go into this one as favourites with the all-important home advantage in the second leg. That being said, away goals no longer add value to their chances and it’s a winner takes all clash. With Marcus Rashford on form scoring again in their 3-0 victory over Leicester on the weekend, and Casemiro available despite his domestic suspension, they’ll be brimming with confidence to go on and seal the win.

Barcelona will be without the La Macia youth of Pedri (injured) and Gavi (suspended), so will likely bring in Ansu Fati and Sergio Busquets. Although, the La Liga leaders have been in a league of their own in Spain, and I believe their European expertise may well set them apart from Ten Hag’s men.

Prediction: Barcelona to advance

Monaco vs Bayer Leverkusen

Who are they?

Monaco are renowned for producing some of the brightest talents in the world, including the likes of Thierry Henry. Kylian Mbappe and Benoit Badiashile are other bright sparks that are now featuring on Europe’s biggest stage. The French side themselves have fallen down a tier in recent years after qualifying for the Champions League 3 years in a row between 2016 and 2019. Now in third in Ligue 1, they’ll fancy themselves to progress in Europe this year.

Although, they’ve got a stern test in German outfit Bayer Leverkusen. Despite them being 10th in the Bundesliga, they’ve qualified for European competitions the last 6 seasons on the bounce. The real stars in the team in Moussa Diaby, Florian Wirtz and Jeremie Frimpong all contributed to a goal in the first leg.

The First Leg

Despite scoring twice, Monaco came from 2-1 down to edge their opposition in Leverkusen 3-1. Two late goals from Krepin Diatta and Axel Disasi gave Monaco a huge advantage going into the second leg in Monaco. It was another first leg tussle filled with drama with not just 5 goals but 6 bookings dished out, and a really evenly matched and competitive game.

Who will Advance?

I expect the same in the second leg, and Leverkusen know that they need to score at least once in Monaco. The French side will just need to avoid defeat to qualify for the Quarter-Finals and will be sure that their home fans will carry them through to the next round. They’ve won their last 4 home games in a row and are in great form.

Prediction: Monaco to advance

PSV vs Sevilla

Who are they?

Another two very familiar names in European competition. PSV qualified 2nd in their Europa League group, narrowly pipped to the top by favourites and Premier League leaders, Arsenal. They did manage to beat them 2-0 in their 5th match of the groups too. They face off to Sevilla, a name famous in the Europa League. The Spanish side have now won this competition 6 times, and the Europa specialist Unai Emery led them to 3 in a row in 2013/14, 2014/15, and 2015/16. Since then, Julen Lopetegui also lifted the trophy in 2019.

The First Leg

Sevilla hosted the Dutch outfit in the first leg, and really showed their Europa League pedigree, sweeping them aside 3-0. The Eindhoven based side evidently missing the goal threat of January outgoing Cody Gakpo. I fancy them to get a goal or two back, but there’s almost no chance they’ll scrape back that 3-goal deficit. Sevilla may have had an awful start to the season but have climbed from the relegation scrap to 12th in the league. 3 wins in their last 5, and 4 home victories on the bounce in La Liga.

Who will Advance?

We may see PSV get a winner in Eindhoven, but it’s too little too late. Sevilla have the experience and defensive record to hold them back and inevitably ease their way into the next round.

Prediction: Sevilla to advance

Roma vs FC Salzburg

Who are they?

The Special One. Jose Mourinho has started a bit of a resurgence with Roma and currently sit in 3rd in Serie A after their 6th placed finish last season. The season wasn’t a complete failure though, as his side lifted the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League. Their opponents in the last 16 are Austrian Bundesliga leaders RB Salzburg, who dropped down from their Champions League group which included Chelsea and Milan. Salzburg are famous for making a name of Erling Haaland before he moved to Borussia Dortmund and now Manchester City.

The First Leg

As expected, the first leg was a tight exchange. The match in Austria remained goalless until the 88th minute when Nicolas Capaldo broke the deadlock to take a one goal advantage into the second leg in Rome. It wasn’t a spectacular game, with only 5 shots on target between them.

Who will Advance?

With Mourinho’s European experience and Roma’s home form, I can only see the Italian side overturning the result and going through. Roma have won all 4 of their previous games at the Stadio Olimpico, and with Tammy Abraham and Paulo Dybala combining up top they should grab a couple of goals.

Prediction: Roma to advance

Union Berlin vs Ajax

Who are they?

What a season Union Berlin are having. They are currently sitting in 3rd position level on points with 1st and 2nd placed Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. This game will be the perfect warm-up for their weekend clash with Bayern in a straight fight to hold top spot in the Bundesliga. Union have been a strange side to watch, defensively exceptional and spring on the counter with Sheraldo Becker up top. They shockingly have an xG of just 1.28 and xGA of a lowly 1.30, and yet have ground out results week in week out.  

Ajax are currently 2nd in the Eredivisie, 3 points behind last years Conference League runners-up Feyenoord. They’ve only lost twice in the league and were unlucky to be knocked out of the Champions League in a group featuring both Liverpool and Napoli. They made it to the last 16 last season, knocked out by Benfica, and famously made it to the semis in 2018/19 to get knocked out by Tottenham on away goals. That won’t be happening this time with that rule scrapped.

The First Leg

The first leg finished in typical Union style at 0-0, and it’s certainly a result they’re more than happy to take to Berlin. The match played right into their hands, and despite having just 38% possession, they managed 13 shots and 3 on target to Ajax’s 8 and 0. Nothing much else to say about that goalless draw. The German side will have full faith in that same style to scrape their way through to the next round, as they seem to have done to the top end of the Bundesliga too. I wouldn’t expect too much difference in the next meet-up, Union also managed a 0-0 draw when they hosted Schalke on the weekend.

Who will Advance?

With all to play for in the second leg, home advantage will no doubt play a huge role and give Union an important leg up. They’re unbeaten in their last 14 games at home, since the first matchday of the Europa League group stage in September when they were narrowly edged 1-0 by Union Saint-Gilloise.

Prediction: Union Berlin to advance

Nantes vs Juventus

Who are they?

Nantes certainly aren’t a name that rings around Europe like their competitors Juventus. They are competing in Europe for the first time in 22 years, and looking for their first knockout round progression since the UEFA Cup in 2000/01. They’re not having a standout season domestically, currently in a lowly 13th, so they’ll want to get something out of the Europa League.

Juventus are traditionally a big name in European competition, and amongst the biggest clubs in Italy. They’ve won the European Cup/Champions League twice, and the second-tier UEFA Cup, now the Europa League, on three occasions. They find themselves in the second tier again after they finished third behind Benfica and PSG in a tough Champions League group. Their league position this term doesn’t tell the full story, 12 points off the top 4 but on the back of a 15-point deduction for breaking financial restrictions.  

The First Leg

Nantes would have been delighted to walk away from the Allianz Stadium in Turin with a 1-1 draw and all to play for in France. Juventus dominated the ball, created by far the most chances, and broke the deadlock after just 13 minutes when Dusan Vlahovic tapped his goal in. On the hour mark, Nantes broke on the counter after absorbing all the pressure, and Ludovic Blas got lucky after a Bremer slip to get an all-important goal.

Who will Advance?

Nantes may have the upper hand with home advantage, but they did get very lucky in the first leg. They’ll expect to be on the defense and look to counter once again even with the home crowd behind them. This will be frustrating for Juve but their experience in Europe should get them through with ease. The Old Lady have won their last 4 domestic games in a row without conceding, and barring a clinical counter should push aside the Canaries.

Prediction: Juventus to advance

Rennes vs Shakhtar Donetsk

Who are they?

Another French side, but one having a significantly better season domestically. Rennes are currently in 5th in Ligue 1 and pushing for those limited European spots for next season. Again not to familiar a name in European competition, with their best ever league finish being 3rd after the season was ended prematurely due to the Covid pandemic in the 2019/20 season.

Shakhtar Donetsk on the other hand have built something of a reputation in Europe. They may only be second in the Ukrainian Premier League right now, but in seasons gone by they’ve put up a spectacle in both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. Winning the UEFA Cup, now the Europa League, in 2009 against Werder Bremen, and then doing the double over Real Madrid in the 2020/21 UCL Group Stage (3-2 and 2-0). They’re dark horses in this competition.

The First Leg

In the first leg, it began with Donetsk dominance. 2-0 going into half-time after Dmytro Kryskiv’s early goal and Artem Bondarenko’s injury time penalty conversion. Rennes came back in the second half and halved the deficit, and had a larger part of the ball and the chances on target. They would have been disappointed to be bringing a deficit back to France but with the crucial second leg at home will be quietly confident they can overturn it.

Who will Advance?

This is a really tough one to call, but I’m going to go with Shakhtar. They need a draw, and have had 3 of them in their last 4 games in Ukraine. Rennes need a win, and with just 2 in their last 6 in all competitions I think they’re going to have a hard time against a side that will happily sit back and absorb the pressure.

Prediction: Shakhtar Donetsk to advance

FC Midtjylland vs Sporting CP

Who are they?

Perhaps one of the least well-known sides left in the competition (and probably the hardest to spell), FC Midtjylland are currently 5th in the Danish Superliga. They were the first Danish club to establish their own academy which has produced names such as Denmark captain and AC Milan centre-back Simon Kjaer, along with Leeds’ Rasmus Nissen and former New Zealand captain and West Ham centre-back Winston Reid.

Sporting Lisbon are a much more renowned name in Europe, famously producing the Cristiano Ronaldo from their academy. One of the “Big Three” in Portugal alongside Porto and Benfica, the Lions have won their domestic league 19 times. They have featured in the most editions of the UEFA Cup/Europa League (32).

The First Leg

Another first leg, another draw. Again, all to play for after a 1-1 draw in Lisbon. Sporting completely dominated the ball with a huge 72% possession, and 15 attempts to Midtjylland’s 5. Yet, they can count themselves somewhat lucky to come away with the draw after Sebastian Coates managed a late equaliser in the 4th minute of second-half stoppage time. Enam Ashour originally got the Danish side out on top in the 77th minute and were moments away from taking a lead into the second leg.

Who will Advance?

As much as being at home in Denmark should be an advantage, FC Midtjylland’s home form is in fact worse than on their travels – 2 wins from 9 vs 4 wins from 9. And the way the previous leg went I can only see Sporting coming out on top if they can just convert the chances they create. They’ve won their last two away games and will have boosted morale with a 3-2 away victory over Chaves in the league on Monday.

Prediction: Sporting to advance

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That’s all for this Europa League preview. You can also check out my Bet Builder Stats Packs where I’ll run down the stats before Man United and Barcelona’s rematch.

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